Sunday, November 16, 2014

Heeding the Call of God: Reflections on the Priesthood

by Father Harold McKale

A priest friend of mine was speaking to me about another priest, and he said, “He really loves his priesthood.” I was taken aback and torn because I did not wish to correct my friend but at the same time felt an obligation to do so. It is not exclusively HIS priesthood. It is the priesthood of Jesus Christ in which he shares. Priests do not possess their own priesthood independent of Christ, but rather, each priest, a man with his own faults, temptations, and weakness as well as his own gifts, virtues and talents was called by Christ to share in His (Christ's) priesthood – to live out the Gospel as priest, prophet & king, leading and shepherding souls to heaven.

“For as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office, so in the Church there are members of diverse importance, having various functions:” there are the faithful and there are shepherds, the priests appointed by Christ to guide souls.

To state that Jesus sanctifies and governs by means of His Church is to say that He sanctifies and governs by means of His Pope and the bishops in communion with Him. Jesus has placed all the powers given to His Church in the hands of His priests, who have been chosen by Him from among the people to become His ministers. “As the Father has sent me so I send you; He that hears you, hears me and that despises you, despises me.” The priestly dignity depends upon this investiture by Christ, this appointment as His representative and minister.

In his epistles, St. Paul recognizes on multiple occasions, that his vocation as an apostle, as a bishop, and as a priest came to him from Jesus Christ Himself. Indeed all of us have a vocation, a vocation to holiness which is lived out specifically as single, married, religious brother or sister or as a priest. A person is usually said to have a vocation in the restrictive sense when he is called by God to a higher state in life, implying a special relationship with God. The call to consecrate oneself to God is a special privilege which does not depend on one’s merit but on the pleasure of God alone.

Priests must be thoroughly aware of the great dignity of their call if they wish to live at the height of their vocation. Pope St. Pius X reminds us, “They must be holy because they are the friends and representatives of a holy God.”

The faithful on their part should see and venerate Christ Himself in their priests. St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians gave them the exact meaning of this authority: “For Christ, therefore, we are ambassadors, God, as it were, exhorting by us.”

St. Catherine of Sienna cautioned her disciples to see priests only as “the dispensers of the Blood of the humble, Immaculate Lamb” and to overlook the faults which they might notice in them. We ought not despair when a priest sins, even gravely. A priest is a man, and therefore always remains fallible and capable of making mistakes, but this does not prevent him from being the Anointed of the Lord, marked forever with an indelible sign and having the power to consecrate the Body of Christ, to administer the sacraments, and to preach to the people in the name of God. Let our response be like that of St. Francis of Assisi who stated that he would receive the MBS from the hands of a sinful priest just as from a holy one; nonetheless, we always ought to pray to God for good holy priests and to pray for the sanctification of our beloved priests.

Without the priesthood we would be deprived of the Holy Eucharist; we would never have the consolation of hearing in the name of God, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.”

"If there were no priests, churches would be deserted, schools become secularized, there would be no nuptial blessings, the dying would be deprived of final consolation, children would be abandoned to evil; all men would be totally immersed in misery with no one to raise them up and lead them to God, with no one to pray to Him in their name and welfare." But Jesus, the sole mediator between God & Man, willed to institute the priesthood to perpetuate among us, in a visible manner, His work of mediation, salvation, and sanctification. The priest accompanies us at every step of our life. Soon after our birth, he welcomes us at the Baptismal font; he administers the sacraments to us, he helps us to understand the Divine truths, he shows us how to lead a good life, blesses our efforts, sustains our footsteps, and strengthens us at our last agony.

He often works unseen and unknown, often misunderstood, never fully appreciated; yet his apostolic work is priceless, indispensable. Every Christian ought to be grateful for the gift of the priesthood; in the first place we should be grateful to Jesus who instituted it; then to those who perform its sublime duties. We express this gratitude, not only by showing our reverential respect and filial docility to God’s priests, but also by assiduously offering our prayers and good works for priestly vocations. Pray to the Lord of the harvest that He send laborers into His harvest. As Pius XI stated, “What prayer can be more pleasing to the Sacred Heart of the Redeemer?... Ask and it shall be given to you: Ask for good holy priests, and the Lord will not refuse to send them to His Church.” To our prayers we must add good works “to awaken, foster, and help vocations to the priesthood.” Blessed are those families that have had the honor of giving a priest to God; blessed are all those who by their prayers, sacrifices, and good works help the formation of holy priests!

Not all of us are called to be priests and religious, but all of us are called to encourage these vocations. We can do that in three ways:

First, we can pray for God to call many more young men to the priesthood. Jesus actually commanded us to do this.

Second, we can pray for those whom God is calling to be given the courage to accept the invitation. This is especially important in today's world, which mocks the priesthood and consecrated life.

Third, we can encourage young people to give God the first shot at their hearts. Ask them if they have ever considered a vocation. Suggest that they go on a retreat at a seminary or a religious house to give God a chance to speak to them.

God operates in the world through His Church and especially through His priests. If He is calling you to be, his priest , do not be afraid! Have the courage to say, "Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum."

For the rest of us, today we join our prayers to those of the whole Church, asking Him to send out more messengers through whom He can work.



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